The Cleveland Cavaliers were close, but not entirely there last season.
The team may have made the postseason after falling in the Play-In tournament, but they couldn’t get enough momentum going to stop the New York Knicks from taking them down in five games in the first round.
Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said there wouldn’t be any sweeping changes or overreactions to the Cavs’ first-round loss to the Knicks when he addressed the media on Friday.
“Obviously, we’re going to look at what we can do to adjust, but there’s no sweeping changes,” Altman said, via Cleveland.com. “No one’s going to panic off this first-round loss. Just like there’s stuff to be gained from this playoff experience, the 51 wins in a hypercompetitive NBA, there’s a lot to learn from that as well in terms of what we can be successful at.
“We know we can be better. We have to learn from that. We have to grow from that. But we will be better for going through what we went through the past 10 days.”
What will the Cavs need to change in the offseason to take push them back into playoff contention and beyond? And will they be able to fix their most glaring issues in time to compete with some of the best the Eastern Conference has to offer?
Strengthen the bench
It won’t take long to find reasons to try and improve Cleveland’s options off the bench.
From sporting the league’s 28th-highest offensive rating, to Cleveland’s 1,320 total bench minutes ranking third-to-last in the league, it’s clear the Cavs will need to find a set of reliable players that fit the brand of “Cavaliers basketball”head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has preached about so often in the past.
Fortunately for them, one of the Cavs most productive bench scorers has admitted he wants to return, and revealed the team’s culture is a big reason why.
“I definitely want to be a part of this culture, be a part of this team,” said guard Caris LeVert, who placed fifth on the roster with 12.1 points per game. “This group is a super special group and I definitely want to be a part of that.
“But you all know it’s a business, so we’ll see what happens this summer.”
Once the floodgates open in late June and July, Cleveland will have plenty of free agent options, on top of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level and Bi-Annual exceptions, to work with.
Add scoring help
Rarely does a one-to-two-man army push a team through the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell finished with a usage rating, or an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor, of 31%, putting him on par with Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had a usage rating of 37.3%, while Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic finished the year with 36.8%.
Garland’s 26.2% put him on pace with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and 0.2% ahead of New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum.
While Mitchell’s usage rating dipped in the playoffs, the team still relied heavily on the two guards for scoring.
The Cavs duo finished the 5-game series with point averages of 23.2 and 20.6 in 41.3 and 37.7 minutes played per game, respectively. Only one other player, guard Caris LeVert, scored in double digits.
Cleveland will need to invest in more proficient scorers for the starting lineup and off the bench if it wants to stand a chance against future contenders in the playoffs.
Build the Cavs’ rebounding with physical bigs
No playoff team is complete without a reliable set of rebounders.
Rebounding proved to be an issue for the Cavaliers even towards the beginning of the season, ending the year with 41.1 rebounds per contest, good enough for 25th in the league behind the Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons. The Cavs’ 13.8 contested rebounds, or a rebound where an opponent is within 3.5 feet of the rebounder, put them at 17th in the NBA.
Milwaukee led the league with 48.6 rebounds per game. New York placed second in the NBA with 15.5 contested rebounds per game, putting them ahead of the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers.
The team lacked a sense of urgency in the playoffs, a point Mobley highlighted when he addressed the media following Game 4.
“I feel like we just didn’t really play with the grit we needed to play with and the urgency we needed to play with all the way through down the stretch,” Mobley said, via Bally Sports Ohio. “I feel like we turned the ball over early, and that got them going.
“We just have to protect the ball a little more and make better plays.”
If the Cavs want to compete with the best teams in the league, they must deter their opponents from getting second chances with offensive rebounds while taking control of the paint on both sides of the floor.